On my journey across Indonesia, I travelled along the wildlife-rich waterways of Kalimantan Borneo, trekked up Javan volcanoes and discovered Balinese culture.
Wildlife exploration in Kalimantan, Borneo
On landing in Pangkalan Bun in Indonesian Borneo, I was met by my guide Andreas who took me to the houseboat – known locally as klotok – that I’d be staying on for the next few days. The crew was already there, and after setting off along the river, they served a lunch of whole freshwater fish, before mooring up alongside some other boats to walk to an orangutan feeding platform. A couple of adult orangutan and a mother with baby were just starting to come over as we arrived, so we watched them feeding until they swung off back between the trees.
Back on the boat, we carried on upstream, pausing to photograph the proboscis monkeys, until with the fading light, we stopped for the night and to have dinner by candlelight, before going to sleep with the chorus of insects and frogs.
After a hearty breakfast the following morning, we continued upstream to the second orangutans’ feeding station, where another big male was slurping on some milk, then carried on along the river with riverside sightings of orangutan, proboscis monkeys, macaques and a brilliantly coloured kingfisher. Having gone as far as we could on the houseboat, we boarded a longboat to travel up a narrower stream to Camp Leakey, while Andreas pointed out the wild crocodiles.
Eventually we arrived at a long boardwalk, which we followed before trekking through the forest to the next feeding station. Here the orangutan are more confident around people, with gibbon and wild boars to see too.
Weaving through the jungle and stepping over tree roots, we made our way back to the riverbank and travelled back along the river to the houseboat for our return journey. That night, I went to sleep on the boat, with the rainforest lit by fireflies.
Touring the volcanoes of Java
On landing in Java, I was met by my new guide, Nanang, before heading to Mesastila, a beautiful retreat up in the hills. With a sweeping driveway, it looks like the approach to a country house, with each villa beautifully designed. From Mesastila, I toured a nearby coffee plantation, and surrounding grounds where they also offer horse riding, then we visited the temples of Mendut and Pandwon.
Before arriving in the Borobudur area, we stopped to tour one of the villages, and a local Candirejo guide took us to see local snacks being made out of yam, to try out the traditional musical instruments, and finally to drink some jasmine tea and try some of the snacks.
I enjoyed a fantastic Javanese lunch with Borobudur in the distance at the incredible Amanjiwo, then we continued on to the charming Plataran Borobudur before getting an early night in preparation for my sunrise tour of Borobudur itself.
It was a 4:30 am start for the tour to Borobudur, where I climbed to the top to find a spot for sunrise. Nanang taught me a lot about the temple’s origins and significance, then back at my hotel, I had breakfast on an outside terrace with views over the iconic temple complex.
We stopped to visit the temples of Prambanan en route to Surabaya, where I then explored the city’s museums, before travelling to Java Banana, my hotel near Mount Bromo that’s set amidst lovely alpine scenery.
It was a 3:30am start the next morning as I set out for the sunrise tour of Mount Bromo, and after a bumpy ride up towards the viewing point, I found a good viewing spot to be rewarded with an incredible sunrise. Once the sun was up, we drove to the caldera itself, and jumped on a couple of ponies to ride to the steps leading up to the steaming sulphuric crater.
After breakfast back at Java Banana, it was a long journey to Ijen Resort, but as Nanang had promised, the setting was beautiful, surrounded by rice terraces and palm trees, with the backdrop of an impressive volcano.
The following day, with first light at 5am, we set out in a jeep up to the volcano, then we trekked up the steep slope – with sulphur miners carrying heavy loads down with remarkable speed – to reach the top for views over the turquoise lake.
A cultural discovery of Bali
Upon arriving in Bali, we drove to The Menjangan, a very remote resort set within West Bali National Park, just across the water from the protected Menjangan Island. The resort covers a vast area, so in the evening I was taken down to the beach for dinner, where each table is lit by a single lantern, with plenty of seafood on offer.
Travelling east along Bali’s northern coast, we stopped to visit one of Bali’s most important temples, Ulun Danu, in its peaceful lake setting, before travelling on to Ubud and the gorgeous Samaya Ubud where I was shown to a fabulous pool villa overlooking the Ayung river.
Just outside Ubud, I visited the village of Mas. Here, I shown how to carve wood using traditional methods and I helped to make the Balinese offerings that you see everywhere, from the foot of doors to shrines and temples. Afterwards, in an outdoor kitchen area, I helped a chef make several Balinese dishes, before enjoying the meal I’d created on a shaded terrace of a beautiful, tropical garden.
I was then able to meet a Balinese priest who told my fortune and let me take part in a traditional purification ceremony. I definitely got a strong sense that for Balinese people, spirituality is an important part of everyday life, so I was grateful to be part of it for a short while at least.
After leaving Samaya, I was picked up by Yanta in a sky blue VW convertible for a tour of West Bali, stopping by the beautiful temple complex of Taman Ayun and driving through the iconic terraced rice paddies of Jatiluwih. We took a short walk through the rice paddies, before heading for Bali’s southwest coast to have lunch by the beach at Alila Soori and visiting Bali’s most famous temple, Tanah Lot, that’s built on the rocks out to sea. We then continued on to the secluded resort of Plataran Canggu, where you feel like you’re exploring a secret garden.
I enjoyed an excellent lunch at one of Seminyak’s top fine dining restaurant, Metis, before watching the sun set from Finn’s Beach Club, and we reached the impressive beachfront Belmond Jimbaran Puri well after dark.
I ended my trip at the fabulous Samaya Seminyak. After a leisurely breakfast at Samaya’s excellent beachfront restaurant, Breeze, I wandered along the beach, then spent a happy couple of hours browsing Seminyak’s gorgeous boutique shops to pick up some souvenirs before heading home.